24 hours is not enough time to experience everything in Shanghai. This largest city in China has over 20,000 restaurants, countless shopping malls, and incredible amounts of attractions to see and things to do to keep travelers busy and entertained.
However, if you are in Shanghai only for one day for a layover and you decide to get out of the airport instead of waiting idly at the boarding room, I have compiled a list of places to see and things to do in 24 hours to help you get to know a bit of the city.
Morning (8am -12pm)
Start your day with a hearty breakfast
Start your visit to Shanghai with a stop at Yang’z Fried Dumpling, my favorite restaurant to have fried soup dumpling in the city. The restaurant first opened in 1994 on Wujiang Road and now it has expanded to several locations. If you are into steamed soup dumplings, be sure to visit Lao Sheng Chang and try out their Suzhou style soup dumplings, as the filling is sweeter and the dumping has a slightly larger size. Apart from the soup dumpling, the restaurant offers scallion oil noodles and a bowl of small wonton soup for ultra-low prices.
For other types of breakfast, you cannot go wrong with anything from the street vendors at the main avenue and the alleyways. Check out Chinese crepes, buns, and soybean milk on the side of the road. These foods are sold to the working class and students who are in a rush to work and go to school, and they are freshly made, cheap, and delicious.
People in Shanghai do not have a habit of starting their mornings with coffee, but if you desperately want a dose of caffeine, head over to Nanjing Road for a visit to the world’s largest Starbucks, which is Starbucks Reserve Roastery for coffee and pastries.
Option 1: Walk through Longtang (aka Old Neighborhoods and Lanes)
After breakfast, lose yourself in Longtang, which consists of interconnected laneways and a group of traditional small houses where the Shanghainese has lived for generations. The Longtang close to Julu Road, Nanchang Road, and Xinzha Road offers you the rare opportunity to learn about the stories, culture, and traditional lifestyle of the Shanghainese that have lived through the last century and you will get to know there is more to Shanghai than the glitz and glam of the Bund and the skyscrapers. Trotting around Longtang, visitors may find coffee shops, Shanghai soup dumplings, and new wine bars. Alternately, you could take a walk in the Zhaofeng Villa for a peek of the Western-style neighborhoods that were built in 1993 and 1994.
Option 2: Safari at Shanghai Wild Animal Park
For those who travel with children, take them for a thrilling day of exploring Shanghai Wild Animal Park. Located in the Pudong area, it was the first national wild animal park, which opened in November 1995. Shanghai Wild Animal Park offers tons of opportunities for you to interact with wild animals such as zebras and elephants, and to take pictures with them. There is a bus taking you to the area to visit cheetahs, lions, giraffes, and bears. Apart from animal safari, the park features world-class sea lion shows and beast-training shows.
In the afternoon, I recommend you either spend some hours exploring Qibao Old town or visit some popular local sites in the city center.
Option 1: Stroll around Qibao Old Town
Take subway line 9 to Qibao and spend your afternoon wandering around Qibao old town. This ancient water town features a myriad of interesting sites such as Qibao Church, Qibao Temple, old bridges, and small museums. Beyond its traditional sites, Qibao has countless snack shops, restaurants, and street vendors offering a wide variety of snacks and traditional Chinese dishes from stinky tofu and glutinous cake to lamb stew, beef noodle soup, and roasted sweet potatoes. The food is scrumptious and dirt cheap and my friend and I frequented there in the afternoon just to eat around.
Option 2: Go for a walk at Zhongshan Park
Zhongshan Park is one of my favorite parks in Shanghai and it is a short walk from metro line 2 and line 3 at Zhongshan Park station. The park has a huge collection of trees and flowers and several hidden paths and trails leading to beautiful scenery. Inside the park, you will find people playing music, practicing tai chi, and choreography dance, and flying kites. There is a lake where you can either walk around or hire a boat for a joyful ride on the water.
I often take a walk inside this park after work and meet my friends there on weekends. There is a Chinese restaurant inside the park where you can have lunch. The park is free to the public and it has food and drink stalls as well.
Get to Know the Marriage Culture at the Singles Market in People’s Square
If your visit includes a weekend, make sure to visit Singles Market, also known as marriage market, in people’s square, a popular weekend location for parents and their single sons and daughter to get together seeking for the perfect match.
In the mind of diligent parents, once their offspring reaches a certain age (25-27 years old) and is still single, the parents will become concerned that their offspring’s wedding day will never come and, hence, decide to find a way to help their sons and daughters find their potential other halves. The singles market is a potential place for this to happen.
Attendees do not need to make any reservations, just get dressed casually, bring your resume, and be prepared to answer questions pertaining to your education, profession, salary, and housing.
Dinner at South Yunnan Road
South Yunnan Road features a concentration of restaurants and scrumptious street food from steamed dumplings of Shanghai, fried tofu, traditional Sichuan hotpot, grilled lamb stew, and tofu flower, to name just a few. Unlike the street food in other parts of the world, the street food on South Yunnan Road is regulated by the government to make sure it exists in its purest form to this day. The price is dirt cheap (my friend and I had a four-course meal in a restuarant there for $13) and one can spend an entire night on South Yunnan Road just to satisfy one’s palate.
Evening (7 pm and onwards)
Watch the Shanghai night skyline at the Bund
End your 24-hour trip in Shanghai by heading to the Bund and watching the nights light up in the Pudong area. Stroll down the promenade and sit on the stairway or on a bench and soak in the glamorous night scene. If time and budget allow, take a Huangpu River Cruise tour for a trip on the Yangzi River and see the impressive skyline of both sides of Huangpu and Pudong that have transformed Shanghai’s economic status in the world. The boat trip is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the city while allowing you to see the best part of the city. The tour is popular. If you go, make sure to book the tickets in advance and be ready for a long line at the entrance. Free drinks and snacks are served on the cruise trip as well.
24 hours in Shanghai: things to know
For travelers on a layover, I recommend having at least six hours that will allow you ample time to transit to and from the airport and spend two to three hours in the city center. However, it is impossible to visit the Qibao ancient town within that time but you can choose other activities to do on this list.
Public transport is extremely packed during the rush hour and it is not uncommon that you need to wait for three to four trains or buses. Take this into account when you leave the city for the airport. And, if possible, try to avoid taking Line 6 and Line 8 for rush hour commute, as these trains are narrow and small, and they cannot fit the same numbers of passengers as other subway lines, which will cause a longer wait.
If you want to see Shanghai in a few hours in the morning or late at night, make your way to Riverside Promenade (also known as Bingjiang Da Dao), then walk and enjoy the spectacular view of the new city. The crowds are not as crazy as they are during the sunset time. If you have a few hours during the midday, make your way to the old alleyways then check out the parks. These are not iconic locations but provide unique photo opportunities and a chance to get to know other aspects of Shanghai.
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